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their rejection of Christ, the stubbornness and obstinacy of their wills; and the like. In many God makes much use of their own experience in the course of their awakenings and endeavours after saving good, to convince them of their own vile emptiness and universal depravity.
Very often under first awakenings, when they are brought to reflect on the sin of their past lives, and have something of a terrifying sense of God's anger, they set themselves to walk more strictly, and confess their sins, and perform many religious duties, with a secret hope of appeasing God's anger and making up for the sins they have committed. And oftentimes, at first setting out, their affections are so moved, that they are full of tears, in their confessions and prayers; which they are ready to make
very much of, as though they were some atonement, and had power to move correspondent affections in God too. Hence they are for awhile big with expectation of what God will do for them; and conceive they grow better apace, and shall soon be thoroughly converted. But these affections are but short lived; they quickly find that they fail, and then they think themselves to be grown worse again. They do not find such a prospect of being soon converted as they thought: instead of being nearer, they seem to be farther off ; their hearts they think are grown harder, and by this means their fears of perishing greatly increase. But though they are disappointed, they renew their attempts again and again; and still as their attempts are multiplied, so are their disappointments. All fails, they see no token of having inclined God's heart to them, they do not see that he hears their prayers at all, as they expected he would ; and sometimes there have been great temptations arising hence to leave off seeking, and to yield up the case. But as they are still more terrified with fears of perishing, and their former hopes of prevailing on God to be merciful to them in a great measure fail ; sometimes their religious affections have turned into heart-risings against God, because he will not pity them, and seems to have little regard to their distress, and piteous cries, and to all the pains they take. They think of the mercy God has shown to others; how soon, and how easily others have obtained comfort, and those too who were worse than they, and have not laboured so much as they have done; and sometimes they have had even dreadful blasphemous thoughts in these circumstances.
But when they reflect on these wicked workings of heart against God—if their convictions are continued, and the spirit of God is not provoked utterly to forsake them--they have more distressing apprehensions of the anger of God towards those whose hearts work after such a sinful manner about him; and it may be, have great fears that they have committed the unpardonable sin, or that God will surely never show mercy to
them who are such vipers; and are often tempted to leave off in despair. But then perhaps by something they read or hear of the infinite mercy of God, and all-sufficiency of Christ for the chief of sinners, they have some encouragement and hope renewed; but think that as yet, they are not fit to come to Christ; they are so wicked that Christ will never accept of them. And then it may be they set themselves upon a new course of fruitless endeavours, in their own strength, to make themselves better; and still meet with new disappointments. They are earnest to enquire, what they shall do? They do not know but there is something else to be done, in order to their obtaining converting grace, that they have never done yet. It may be they hope, that they are something better than they were; but then the pleasing dream all vanishes again. If they are told, that they trust too much to their own strength and righteousness, they cannot unlearn this practice all at once, and find not yet the appearance of any good, but all looks as dark as midnight to them. Thus they wander about from mountain to bill, seeking rest and finding none.
When they are beat out of one refuge, they fly to another; till they are as it were debilitated, broken, and subdued with legal humblings; in which God gives them a conviction of their own utter helplessness and insufficiency, and discovers the true remedy in a clearer knowledge of Christ and his gospel.
When they begin to seek salvation, they are commonly profoundly ignorant of themselves; they are not sensible how blind they are, and how little they can do towards bringing themselves to see spiritual things aright, and towards putting forth gracious exercises in their own souls. They are not sensible how remote they are from love to God, and other holy dispositions, and how dead they are in sin. When they see unexpected pollution in their own hearts, they go about to wash away their own defilements, and make themselves clean ; and they weary themselves in vain, till God shows them that it is in vain, and that their help is not where they have sought it.
But some persons continue wandering in such a kind of labyrinth, ten times as long as others, before their own experience will convince them of their insufficiency; and so it appears not to be their own experience only, but the convincing influence of God's Holy Spirit with their experience, that attains the effect. God has of late abundantly shown, that he does not need to wait 10 have men convinced by long and often repeated fruitless trials; for in multitudes of instances he has made a shorter work of it. He has so awakened and convinced persons' consciences, and made them so sensible of their exceeding great vileness, and given them such a sense of his wrath against sin, as has quickly overcome all their vain self
confidence, and borne them down into the dust before a holy and righteous God.
There have been some who have not had great terrors, but have had a very quick work. Some of those who have not had so deep a conviction of these things before their conversion, have much more of it afterwards. God has appeared far from limiting himself to any certain method in his proceedings with sinners under legal convictions. In some instances, it seems easy for our reasoning powers to discern the methods of divine wisdom, in his dealings with the soul under awakenings; in others, his footsteps cannot be traced, and his ways are past finding out. Some who are less distinctly wrought upon in what is preparatory to grace, appear no less eminent in gracious experiences afterwards.
There is in nothing a greater difference, in different persons, than with respect to the time of their being under trouble ; some but a few days, and others for months or years. There were many in this town who had been, before this effusion of the Spirit upon us, for years, and some for many years, concerned about their salvation. Though probably they were not thoroughly awakened, yet they were concerned to such a degree as to be very uneasy, so as to live an uncomfortable disquieted lise.
They continued in a way of taking considerable pains about their salvation ; but had never obtained any comfortable evidence of a good state. Several such persons, in this extraordinary time, have received light; but many of them were some of the last. They first saw multitudes of others rejoicing, with songs of deliverance in their mouths, who before had seemed wholly careless and at ease, and in pursuit of vanity ; while they had been bowed down with solicitude about their souls. Yea, some had lived licentiously, and so continued till a little before they were converted ; and yet soon grew up to a holy rejoicing in the infinite blessings God had bestowed upon them.
Whatever minister has a like occasion to deal with souls, in a flock under such circumstances as this was in the last year,
I cannot but think he will soon find himself under a necessity greatly to insist upon it with them, that God is under no manner of obligation to shew mercy to any natural man, whose heart is not turned to God: and that a man can challenge nothing either in absolute justice or by free promise, from any thing he does before he has believed on Jesus Christ, or has true repentance begun in him. It appears to me that if I had taught those who came to me under trouble, any other doctrine, I should have taken a most direct course utterly to undo them. I should have directly crossed what was plainly the drift of the Spirit of God in his influences upon them; for if they had believed what I said, it would either have promoted
self-flattery and carelessness, and so put an end to their awakenings, or cherished and established their contention and strife with God concerning his dealings with them and others, and blocked up their way to that humiliation before the Sovereign Disposer of Life and death, whereby God is wont to prepare them for his consolations. And yet those who have been under awakenings, have oftentimes plainly stood in need of being encouraged, by being told of the infinite and all-sufficient mercy of God in Christ; and that it is God's manner to succeed diligence, and to bless his own means, that so awakenings and encouragements, fear and hope may be duly mixed, and proportioned to preserve their minds in a just medium between the two extremes of self-flattery and despondence, both which tend to slackness and negligence, and in the end to security. I think I have found that no discourses have been more remarkably blessed, than those in which the doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty with regard to the salvation of sinners, and his just liberty with regard to answering the prayers, or succeeding the pains of natural men, continuing such, have been insisted on. I never found so much immediate saving fruit, in any measure, of any discourses I have offered to my congregation, as some from these words, Rom. ii. 19, “ That every mouth may be stopped ;" endeavouring to shew from thence, that it would be just with God for ever to reject and cast off mere natural men.
As to those in whom awakenings seem to have a saving issue, commonly the first thing that appears after their legal troubles is a conviction of the justice of God in their condemnation, appearing in a sense of their own exceeding sinfulness, and the vileness of all their performances. In giving an account of this, they expressed themselves very variously: some, that they saw God was sovereign, and might receive others and reject them; some that they were convinced, God might justly bestow mercy on every person in the town, in the world, and damn themselves to all eternity ; some, that they see God may justly have no regard to all the pains they have taken, and all the prayers they have made; some, that if they should seek, and take the utmost pains all their lives, God might justly cast them into hell at last, because all their labours, prayers, and tears cannot make an atonement for the least sin, nor merit any blessing at the hands of God; some have declared themselves to be in the hands of God, that he may dispose of them just as he pleases; some, that God may glorify
himself in their damnation, and they wonder that God has suffered them to live so long, and has not cast them into hell long ago.
Some are brought to this conviction by a great sense of their sinfulness, in general, that they are such vile wicked creatures in heart and life: others have the sins of their lives in an extraordinary manner set before them, multitudes of them coming just then fresh to their memory, and being set before them with their aggravations. Some have their minds especially fixed on some particular wicked practice they have indulged; some are especially convinced by a sight of the corruption and wickedness of their hearts. Some, from a view they have of the horridness of some particular exercises of corruption, which they have had in the time of their awakening, whereby the enmity of the heart against God has been manifested; some are convinced especially by a sense of the sin of unbelief, the opposition of their hearts to the way of salvation by Christ, and their obstinacy in rejecting him and
There is a great deal of difference as to distinctness here: some, who have not so clear a sight of God's justice in their condemnation, yet mention things that plainly imply it. They find a disposition to acknowledge God to be just and righteous in his threatenings; and that they are undeserving: and many times, though they had not so particular a sight of it at the beginning, they have very clear discoveries of it soon afterwards, with great humblings in the dust before God.
Commonly persons' minds immediately before this discovery of God's justice are exceedingly restless, in a kind of struggle and tumult, and sometimes in mere anguish ; but generally, as soon as they have this conviction, it immediately brings their minds to a calm, and unexpected quietness and composure; and most frequently, though not always, then the pressing weight upon their spirits is taken away, and a general hope arises, that some time or other God will be gracious, even before any distinct and particular discoveries of mercy,
Often they then come to a conclusion within themselves, that they will lie at God's feet, and wait his time; and they rest in that, not being sensible that the Spirit of God has now brought them to a frame whereby they are prepared for mercy. For it is remarkable, that persons when they first have this sense of the justice of God, rarely, at the time, think any thing of its being that humiliation they have often heard insisted on, and that others experience.
In many persons, the first conviction of the justice of God in their condemnation, which they take particular notice of, and probably the first distinct conviction of it that they have, is of such a nature, as seems to be above any thing merely legal. Though it be after legal humblings, and much of a sense of their own helplessness, and of the insufficiency of their own duties; yet it does not appear to be forced by mere legal terrors and convictions; but rather from a high exercise of grace, in saving repentance, and evangelical humiliation.